Breast Cancer Diagnosis-What You Need to Know

A breast cancer diagnosis usually starts with a mammogram. Yearly mammograms, breast self-checks, and doctor’s clinical examinations can diagnose breast cancer even before symptoms occur. It is essential to have regular screenings, as breast cancer can be treated easily if diagnosed early. The procedures used for breast cancer diagnosis include:

Regular self-breast examinations will help you notice any abnormal changes. You must pay attention to changes, including:

  1. Self-Check Ups
    • Breast pain (rare)
    • Discoloration 
    • Bleeding 
    • A visible or palpable lump
    • Nipple discharge 
  2. Physical Examination

    If you develop any breast cancer symptoms, your doctor will perform a clinical breast exam to identify any changes or growths in your breasts. They will ask you about any changes you may have noticed, such as, an inverted nipple or marks on your skin. They may also take note of congenital breast abnormalities, and follow up on the changes.

  3. Lab Tests

    Your doctor may recommend these tests if you have lumps in your breast or when breast cancer is suspected.

    • Imaging – A mammogram is the X-ray of the breast, often used to diagnose breast cancer. If any abnormalities are detected on your mammogram, your doctor may recommend a diagnostic mammogram.
    • Diagnostic Mammogram – This examines one section in detail, taking more images of a particular area to visualize it better.
    • Ultrasound – This is recommended if your mammogram detects an abnormal lump. An ultrasound uses sound waves to determine whether a new lump is a fluid-filled cyst or a tumor.
    • Breast Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI) –  This uses magnetic radio waves to take pictures of your breast.
  4. Biopsy Procedures

    A small tissue sample is removed from the concerned area and then tested in the lab under a microscope to detect abnormalities such as lumps, cysts, nipple discharge, etc.

    Several biopsy procedures are used to diagnose breast cancer, including:

    • Core needle biopsy
    • Vacuum-Assisted core biopsy 
    • Fine-Needle Aspiration
    • Lymph node biopsy
    • MRI-Guided biopsies
    • Excisional biopsy
    • Stereotactic core needle biopsy
  5. Staging and Grading 

    Your biopsy result will describe the type of breast cancer and its characteristics, including:

    • Hormone and genetic status
    • Whether it is invasive or noninvasive 
    • Growth rate
    • Size

    After reviewing your test results, your doctor will determine the stage and grade of your breast cancer, if present. 

    • Staging – This involves determining how far cancer has spread when it is found.
    • Grading – This involves determining how aggressive the cancer is and its spread and growth rate.
  6. Differential Diagnosis  

    Finding lumps or changes in the breast is not always a sign of cancer, as these can be due to fat necrosis, benign breast lesions, or fibroadenomas. However, a precancerous lesion such as carcinoma in situ or radial scar is possible to detect. Metastasis is also another diagnosis that can spread from another cancer in the body that can cause a breast lump or mass. 

  7. Knowing Your Risk – Genetic Testing

    Genetic testing is recommended if you:

    • Have had a breast cancer scare
    • Are concerned about your risk of developing the condition
    • Have a family history of the disease, or your family members carry breast cancer genes
    • Have had breast cancer at a young age (before menopause)

For more information on breast cancer and its treatment, contact us.


Dr. Madhu Prasad, M.D., FACS

Dr. Madhu Prasad has over 30+ years of experience working as a general surgeon and surgical oncologist and providing the highest level of care in Anchorage, Alaska. He believes in providing quality care to patients and their families. Inspired by compassion and humanism, Dr. Prasad and his team work for the well-being of their patients.

Alaska Cancer Treatment Center

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